October is Respect Life month, and a constellation of recent news items seems to be inviting us to pause, look around, and take note of the many ways we need to continue to lift up the dignity of human life — all human life, and especially lives that are most vulnerable. Of course, we must respect life year-round, but before we step into November, let’s take a moment to name where things have gone wrong, and lift up some extraordinary people who are swimming against the current.
We’ve been tuned in to the ways our policies at the southern border have been denigrating the lives of migrants and refugees seeking safety and opportunity. The photo of the migrant father who drowned with his daughter in the Rio Grande broke our hearts, but we’ve also been sharing stories about people making a stand to support the vulnerable there — by delivering water, teaching carpentry skills, and remembering those who have died.
We’re also tuned in to the story of the fetal remains discarded and left behind by the doctor who operated several abortion clinics in Indiana. We remember that these bodies carried 2,411 human lives, and we also remember that each of these 2,411 children was intimately connected to a mother in crisis. As an acknowledgement of the reality that human life begins in the womb, the bishop of Ft. Wayne and South Bend has offered the use of the Catholic cemetery in Ft. Wayne “for the proper and dignified burial of the remains of these unborn children.”
Another news story has emerged in recent weeks that shines a light on our responsibility to uphold the dignity of human life — especially the lives of vulnerable people. Samuel Little was recently deemed the most prolific serial killer in the United States, preying on and murdering 93 women. He said he chose them because he “thought the police wouldn’t work too hard to find” them. These women were primarily African-American and on the fringes of society: in peril economically and estranged from their families.
Here’s how The New York Times put it:
“One of the unfortunate realities of policing is that departments that are under pressure to solve a variety of murders may pay less attention to victims from a more vulnerable population if they don’t have the same organized community pressure to solve those crimes,” said Jim Bueermann, the former police chief of Redlands, Calif., and the former president of the National Police Foundation. “If a killer wants to do as many murders as possible, they’ll start to exploit those gaps in the social fabric and those weaknesses in law enforcement with victims that few people care about.”
This story points to two failures of our culture: the willingness to overlook those who need help the most, and the lack of respect for women. No life should be more precious than another just because of someone’s economic status, race, or sex.
Life is precious, and it’s worth more than just our respect — it deserves our protection. Human dignity is most threatened among those living on the margins: people who are unborn, migrants, elderly, children, sick, poor, or are excluded because of the color of their skin or sexual orientation. So, in a special way, we hold in prayer those whose lives are threatened. We stand with those who are vulnerable. And we remember those who have died.